Skip to main content

Everything that disappears in the Bermuda Triangle… Well, this is where they end up.

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
(2013)

Thor Freudenthal’s half-hearted sequel to Chris Columbus’ 2010 sub-Harry Potter Young Adult adaptation reeks of a budget-strapped follow-up. Movies that don’t feel the urge to hit the two-hour finish line are fine by me, but when the quest for Golden Fleece is a one-stop shop it’s clear something has gone seriously awry somewhere. While there are a couple of sprightly elders livening up the supporting roles, Sea of Monsters mostly fails to pass muster, even stood next to its slight but likeable predecessor.


Reputedly costing less than The Lightning Thief, the bean counters obviously decided it made financial sense based on that movie’s post-theatrical earnings. That is, it got made by the skin of its teeth. Everyone is looking for the next Potter, then the next Twilight and now the next Hunger Games. Percy Jackson takes its cues of destiny’s child from Potter, along with the assorted sidekicks/ mentor types, but it also hearkens to Chronicles of Narnia in its overt references to religion/mythology (Christianity, the Greek pantheon). Narnia also scraped together a (second) sequel based on long-term maths rather than instant benefits after Prince Caspian floundered.


So Sea of Monsters has to make do with a director of a mid-range comedies (Hotel for Dogs, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and the loss of the entirety of the adult cast of Lightning Thief (so no Brosnan, Bean, McKidd. Thurman, Dawson or Coogan). Anthony Head fills in comfortably for Brosnan as Chiron, a Rupert Giles-type professor with four hooves. Stanley Tucci makes one of his dazzling cameos as Mr D (did they think calling him Dionysus would be too potent a signifier of debauchery?), perpetually attempting to fill a glass of fine wine only for it to transform to water before he is able to drink a drop (at Zeus’ decree). He also has a winningly disreputable taste for stealing ideas and palming them off as his own. Nathan Fillion cameos as Hermes, the father of the not-that-threatening-really returning bad teen Luke (Jake Abel, who gets the occasional decent line delivery, ”What are you doing? Don’t walk on my roof!” but lacks a sense of genuine menace). Fillion, still eating all the pies, is content to dine out on the decade old memory of Firefly (Hercules Busts Heads; “The best TV show ever, so, of course, cancelled”).


The adult support aside, it’s Brandon T Jackson as satyr Grover who yet again steals the show (it’s questionable why no one comments on satyrs being naked from the waist down, centaurs too; is it only because there’s a lot of hair concealing their bits?). When he’s not off screen and captured, that is. He disappears for a long period, but instantly reaps the laughs when he resurfaces disguised as a lady Cyclops. Logan Lerman has an open-faced guilelessness that could prove irritating if he wasn’t also a decent actor. He isn’t especially well-served by Percy, a strictly predictable role of good-natured heroism fuelled by a ready supply of platitudes. Not helping matters is the introduction of his sub-Ted “Theodore” Logan half-brother, Tyson (Douglas Smith); he’s a dozy but brave dread-head Cyclops. Alexandra Daddio returns as Annabeth (the Hermione role), Athena’s daughter) while Leven Rambin is Clarisse, a headstrong and haughty half-daughter of Ares. These bastard offspring are rendered quite innocuous by the dedicatedly unremarkable storytelling.


Any given high point of Greek mythology is ironed into anodyne shape, complete with strange connections between given legends presumably decided by pulling names out of a hat. Luke plans to resurrect the Titan Kronos, father of Zeus (a victim of mass patricide, although to be fair he did have a habit of eating his own brood). His remains just happen to reside in a casket that bears a strong resemblance to Raiders’ ark (Titan himself is more you standard issue demonic horned god type, when he is mustered). To complete this task Luke requires the Golden Fleece, a rather non-descript piece of rug here but one with the handy power to heal pretty much anything and everything.  In turn, Percy requires it to save the tree that protects Camp Half-Blood (there’s a first draft site name if ever there was one).


The Fleece is guarded over by Polyphemus the Cyclops, who for some reason now lives on Circe’s island. In the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. This mish-mash might have been all right if used to blend elements into an inventive melange, but the result is consistently limp. On the plus side there’s a whacky car journey with the Graeae that is at least lively. It takes the one-eyed sisters and sticks them in a demonic taxicab that could be an outtake from Bill Murray’s Scrooged. The insides of Charybdis seem to have been half-inspired by Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen, but such inventiveness is few and far between.


It’s nice to see a hippocampus, but why is it even necessary when Percy is travelling across water… which he has command over? The special effects aren’t so special either, especially for a movie that reportedly wasn’t that cheap, as if all designers just couldn’t summon any enthusiasm. And that’s Sea of Monsters all over. It’s okay, and there’s at least more life than in those dismayingly charmless Sam Worthington Perseus flicks, but its still quite sad to see such rich material wasted so profusely.


Sea of Monsters didn’t do that much less business than the first so, with a fourth Narnia tentatively planned, The Titan’s Curse may well follow. But if this series does, just about, continue to make sense financially, at some point the producers will be forced to recast, drastically reduce the budgets (they may well end up as straight-to-DVD fare), or even reboot it in a TV incarnation. To realistically ride the crest of the Potter wave Percy needed to become a movie series almost as soon as its 2005 novel debut, not five years later. As I understand it, the Jackson faithful aren’t that keen on the way the makers keep messing with the books, giving the movies even less reason to be. This is a series where it’s left to the supporting characters maintain the interest and where the myths are so neutered as to be virtually unrecognisable. Also, the title’s misleading. I could only count one (monster).


**1/2

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

You know what I think? I think he just wants to see one cook up close.

The Green Mile (1999)
(SPOILERS) There’s something very satisfying about the unhurried confidence of the storytelling in Frank Darabont’s two prison-set Stephen King adaptations (I’m less beholden to supermarket sweep The Mist); it’s sure, measured and precise, certain that the journey you’re being take on justifies the (indulgent) time spent, without the need for flashy visuals or ornate twists (the twists there are feel entirely germane – with a notable exception – as if they could only be that way). But. The Green Mile has rightly come under scrutiny for its reliance on – or to be more precise, building its foundation on – the “Magical Negro” trope, served with a mild sprinkling of idiot savant (so in respect of the latter, a Best Supporting Actor nomination was virtually guaranteed). One might argue that Stephen King’s magical realist narrative flourishes well-worn narrative ploys and characterisations at every stage – such that John Coffey’s initials are announcement enough of his…

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983)
(SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bonds in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball, but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again, despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy.

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).

Charming. Now she's got the old boy's money, she's making a play for the younger one.

Woman of Straw (1964)
(SPOILERS) The first fruit of Sean cashing in on his Bond status in other leading man roles – he even wears the tux he’d later sport in Goldfinger. On one level, he isn’t exactly stretching himself as a duplicitous, misogynist bastard. On the other, he is actually the bad guy; this time, you aren’t supposed to be onside his capacity for killing people. It’s interesting to see Connery in his nascent star phase, but despite an engaging set up and a very fine performance from Ralph Richardson, Woman of Straw is too much of a slow-burn, trad crime thriller/melodrama to really make a mark. All very professionally polished, but the spoiled fruits of an earlier era.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded
The Premise
George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Just make love to that wall, pervert!

Seinfeld 2.10: The Statue
The Premise
Jerry employs a cleaner, the boyfriend of an author whose book Elaine is editing. He leaves the apartment spotless, but Jerry is convinced he has made off with a statue.